Indiana forecasts 10-fold jump for mail-in voting
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana election officials are bracing for perhaps 10 times more mail-in ballots for this fall’s election than four years ago.
Officials expect 1.3 million to 1.8 million mailed ballots, which would mean more than half of Indiana’s voters might choose that option rather than heading to polling sites for the Nov. 3 election amid coronavirus exposure worries.
As Republican state leaders resist calls for allowing no-excuse mail-in voting as Indiana did for the spring primary, top election officials are urging voters to act early following U.S. Postal Service warnings that can’t guarantee ballots requested near the state’s deadline will be delivered on time to county election offices.
More than 100,000 Indiana voters have already requested mail ballots some nine weeks ahead of Election Day, compared with about 155,000 total such ballots cast for the 2016 presidential election, according to the Indiana secretary of state’s office, which oversees state election policy. About half of the ballots in Indiana’s June primary were cast by mail.
Local election offices are gearing up to start sending out the general election ballots starting in early September, said Sara Arnold, president of the Indiana county clerks association.
“They are stamping the envelopes, stuffing what they’re able to, doing all they can already just to get prepared,” said Arnold, who is the clerk in southern Indiana’s Spencer County.
Indiana allows people to vote by mail if they fall into one of several categories, including being 65 or older or being absent from their home counties on Election Day. The mail-in balloting estimates are based on the 2016 election turnout of 2.8 million voters and the percentage of votes submitted by mail for this spring’s primary, when all voters were allowed to vote by mail because of virus concerns, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other GOP leaders have turned aside appeals from Democrats and voting rights groups to lift Indiana’s mail-in ballot limits for the November election.
Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson said while being confined at home because of illness is a legitimate excuse for a mail-in ballot, state law doesn’t extend that to instances of COVID-19 exposure fears.
“If you’re confined to your home because you have a condition that puts you at high risk and you are self-isolating, you may qualify to vote absentee by mail,” Lawson said. “If you’re still going to the grocery store and running other errands, you’re not confined to your home.”
Voting rights groups Common Cause Indiana and Indiana Vote By Mail have separately sued the state over the mail-in balloting limits and the noon Election Day deadline for ballots to arrive in election offices.
Leaders of both groups said they’ve heard from people concerned about possibly facing long lines and poorly ventilated polling sites if they must vote in person despite the coronavirus outbreak, which is blamed for more than 3,200 deaths around the state since mid-March.
Barbara Tully, president of Indiana Vote By Mail, said she considered Lawson’s defense of the mail balloting limits “flippant” and questioned why Indiana is among about a half dozen states not allowing residents to use mail ballots this year without citing a specific excuse.
“Why are they clinging onto this?” Tully said. “I’ve not seen the governor or secretary of state give any clear explanation for why they are clinging onto those excuses.”
Lawson and Holcomb have said voters worried about Election Day lines have the option of early in-person voting at county clerk offices starting Oct. 6 and that protective equipment and cleaning supplies are being supplied by the state for poll workers and voting equipment.
Lawson encouraged those who want to vote by mail to submit their ballot requests to their county election offices or the state’s Indianavoters.com online portal well before the Oct. 22 deadline.
“My sage advice would be don’t wait,” Lawson said. “If you know you’re going to vote by mail, apply today.”